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For defenders of women, N.Y. attorney general's downfall carries a special sting. One woman asks, 'Who can we trust?'

For defenders of women, N.Y. attorney general's downfall carries a special sting. One woman asks, 'Who can we trust?'
Eric Schneiderman resigned Monday as New York attorney general after several women accused him of slapping and choking them during romantic encounters. (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

This week New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman joined a list of prominent Empire State politicians who in recent years have resigned amid allegations of inappropriate and possibly criminal conduct toward women.

Like former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Schneiderman was seen as a rising star and leading voice in the Democratic Party — in New York and nationally — with a promising political future.

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To Schneiderman's admirers, his downfall was particularly awkward — even painful — because he had a reputation as a defender of women's rights. He filed suit against Harvey Weinstein and had been looking into why earlier sexual assault complaints against the media mogul did not lead to charges.

Some of Weinstein's accusers now say they felt let down.

"Many Weinstein victims were in touch with Eric Schneiderman. He promised he would protect them and help them get justice. Who can we trust? Nobody," actress Asia Argento wrote on Twitter.

On Monday, just a few hours after the New Yorker magazine published a report detailing the accounts of four women who said Schneiderman physically abused them, he announced he would step down despite contesting the allegations.

Schneiderman's speedy and spectacular fall prompted some supporters of President Trump to take to Twitter gleefully, while the issue of who will succeed him raises questions of whether his anti-Trump agenda will continue apace.

"Bad day for the resistance!" one user tweeted.

"Gotcha," Kellyanne Conway wrote Monday night, quoting a tweet from Schneiderman in October that said, "No one is above the law, and I'll continue to remind President Trump and his administration of that every day." (Schneiderman's Twitter page has since been taken down.)

New York politicians were quick to denounce Schneiderman.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, called on him to resign Monday.

"Given the damning pattern of facts and corroboration laid out in the article, I do not believe it is possible for Eric Schneiderman to continue to serve as Attorney General," Cuomo said in a statement.

At a previously scheduled news conference on crime on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he had been "horrified, page after page" while reading the New Yorker article.

"It's a moment of reckoning and now the reckoning has come to him," the Democratic mayor said of Schneiderman.

Some women whom the attorney general had previously championed expressed disappointment at the allegations against their onetime ally.

In an interview, Sonia Ossorio, president of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women, called the revelations "shocking" given Schneiderman's past work.

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Schneiderman had worked with NOW to unseat a state senator accused of domestic violence in 2009, Ossorio said, and he had recently collaborated with the group on an ongoing lawsuit over harassment by protesters outside a women's health clinic.

"It's so hard now to see him in those lights, but ... his public mantle did prioritize women's issues. It's a striking disconnect with his personal life," Ossorio said.

Last fall Schneiderman launched a civil rights investigation into the Weinstein Co. over allegations chronicled in the New York Times and the New Yorker. In February he filed suit against the company and against Harvey and Robert Weinstein.

Gov. Cuomo also directed the attorney general to conduct a review of how Manhattan Dist. Atty. Cyrus Vance Jr.'s office handled sexual assault allegations against Weinstein in 2015. That review is ongoing.

Then this week, hours after the New Yorker published its article, Vance announced his office would investigate Schneiderman, raising the possibility of criminal charges. But some raised questions of whether Vance was the right person for the job given the apparent conflict.

By Tuesday night Cuomo had appointed a special prosecutor instead, saying, "There can be no suggestion ... of any conflict or anything less than a full, complete and unbiased investigation."

Beyond his stance on women's rights, Schneiderman had also been a loud and frequent critic of Trump's, leading and joining multi-state lawsuits against the administration over immigration, environmental regulations and healthcare. Just last week he added new plaintiffs to a suit against the administration over its plan to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 census.

On Monday, hours before the scandal broke, he and seven other attorneys general sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt asking him to withdraw a proposed rule that would limit the use of scientific evidence when adopting regulations.

Recently Schneiderman had sought to change New York State law so that its double-jeopardy provision, which prevents people from being charged for the same crimes twice, would not apply in cases of presidential pardons. Many saw the effort as a way to get around pardons Trump might issue in the course of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The New York attorney general's office, one of the largest in the country, announced Tuesday that Solicitor Gen. Barbara Underwood had been appointed acting attorney general. Underwood will serve in that role until the Legislature selects an interim head, and an election for Schneiderman's permanent replacement will be held in November.

Lizzie Ulmer, communications director for the Democratic Attorneys General Assn., said in an interview that the allegations against Schneiderman came as a surprise and were troubling, but that his resignation would not stop those committed to challenging Trump.

"Most of the work of the Democratic attorneys general over the past 18 months has not been about one office or one AG," she said. "These AGs aren't going to miss a beat."

Before the scandal broke, Schneiderman was headed toward an unopposed primary race for a third term.

Following his resignation, speculation swirled over who might succeed him, with many calling for a woman. Possible names included former U.S. Atty. for the Southern District Preet Bharara, who was fired from his post by Trump, as well as Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James.

As for the future, Ossorio of NOW said she hopes some public good could come from Schneiderman's fall. Perhaps, she said, the incident would bring greater awareness to issues of domestic violence and encourage more people to speak out.

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